Public interest cases

Accommodation - September 2016

 

Penalty for noise disturbance

University of Portsmouth

A student complained to the OIA after her request to appeal against temporary suspension from the University of Portsmouth was turned down.

The student was living in shared private rented accommodation. Local residents complained to the University and to the local council about noise on several occasions. The council issued a Noise Abatement notice a few weeks into the tenancy and the University, which had already been in touch with the students, began disciplinary proceedings.

Following an initial interview the University imposed sanctions on the students for breach of the Code of Student Behaviour, which prohibits “antisocial behaviour both within the University and within the wider community”. However the University continued to receive complaints about noise and contacted the students to warn them that further breaches of regulations would lead to referral to a major disciplinary panel, which had the ‘power to suspend or exclude students’.

After further incidents the Council issued a Contravention of Abatement notice. This led the University to hold a further investigation of misconduct meeting, which the student did not attend. The University subsequently established a full disciplinary panel to hear the full case. The student did not attend or provide evidence. The panel imposed the maximum available penalty of exclusion from the University for one year. It noted that “the penalty was appropriate given the severity of the incidents and the fact that [the student] refused to moderate her behaviour or engage in the disciplinary progress.”

The OIA found the student’s complaint Not Justified. The University correctly followed its regulations and procedures and afforded the student every opportunity to engage and submit evidence in a timely manner at each stage of the process. It demonstrated that it made her aware of the possible outcome of major misconduct. We concluded that the University’s final decision and chosen penalty were in accordance with its regulations and were reasonable in all the circumstances.

In our Complaint Outcome we noted that the University’s regulations state that it will take action against students who demonstrate anti-social behaviour. This is common practice in the sector and we consider this to be necessary to safeguard the reputation and co-existence of universities within their wider community.

 

Early release from accommodation contract - need for supporting evidence

University of Derby

A student complained to the OIA about the University of Derby’s final decision not to release her from her contract and liability to pay rent for accommodation in the Halls of Residence.

The student had requested to move from halls on health grounds, stating that her accommodation exacerbated an existing health issue. She was unable to produce any medical evidence to support her claim.

The University had a number of discussions with the student and offered her the opportunity to move to alternative accommodation. She had chosen not to pursue this option. When she appealed the decision not to release her from her contract she raised a number of other issues but was unable to provide evidence to support her statements.

We were satisfied that it was reasonable for the University to require persuasive contemporaneous evidence that demonstrated that living in halls was having a detrimental impact on her health before releasing her from a contract she had signed. We were also satisfied that the University explained to the student that it required evidence dated from the time that she was a resident of the halls. In the absence of such evidence we were satisfied that it was reasonable for the University to reject her request to be released from her tenancy agreement and to reject her subsequent complaint and challenge.

We decided the student’s complaint was Not Justified.

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Swansea University

A student from Swansea University complained to the OIA about the University’s final decision not to release him from his accommodation contract.

The student was living in private rented accommodation that was managed by the University accommodation service in partnership with the students’ union. He complained that his room was damp. The complaint was initially considered by the accommodation service, which concluded that there was no damp. Following that decision a Housing Officer from the city council carried out a ‘non intrusive’ inspection and also concluded that there was no damp.  A surveyor then carried out a further ‘non intrusive’ inspection that showed high moisture levels in isolated areas.

The student submitted a stage two complaint. An ‘intrusive’ inspection of the property was carried out and this found no evidence of damp. The University dismissed the student’s complaint but as a goodwill gesture offered him alternative accommodation. He declined this and chose to stay in his room. The University rejected the student’s request to review its stage two decision and he complained to the OIA.

The student’s dissatisfaction with the University’s decision rested on it giving greater weight to the report of the ‘intrusive’ inspection than the earlier findings of the chartered surveyor. We were satisfied that the University concluded that the ‘intrusive’ inspection was more robust than the earlier investigations and that it was reasonable to rely on that information.

We considered that the University’s offer to find alternative rooms for the student was accommodating given that it had rejected his complaint.

We found the complaint Not Justified.

 

Early release from contract – acceptable grounds

University of Wolverhampton

A student from the University of Wolverhampton complained to the OIA about the University’s final decision about her fee liability under the accommodation contract she signed at the start of her studies.

The student decided to move from her accommodation early in the first term. The University offered her alternative accommodation, which she refused. Under the terms of her accommodation contract she was liable for fees until the room was re-let.

The student complained that she would not have taken the room had she known that the other students on the corridor would be international students. The university had informed her that accommodation was mixed in terms of both gender and nationality of students. It explained its policy on diversity to her and contended that any student entering the University could be expected to mix a diverse range of students.

The OIA decided that the University had acted reasonably in rejecting her second stage complaint and that her complaint was Not Justified.

 

Timeliness of complaints

Kingston University

A former student at Kingston University complained to the OIA about her liability for accommodation fees after she withdrew from her studies. The University had refused to consider her complaint as it was out of time.

The student had entered into an accommodation contract at the start of her studies. She withdrew and moved out of halls early in her first term, giving her reasons as concerns about drug use in the accommodation block. The student was unable to provide any evidence to back up her concerns and the University had had no reports of any drug-related incidents.

The University explained to the student that she would be liable for accommodation fees as outlined in her contract, and pointed her towards the student complaints’ process. However the student did not make a formal complaint for several months.

The OIA was satisfied that the University’s procedures included very clear time limits for making a complaint and that the student had been advised of how to complain. We decided it was reasonable for the University to refuse to consider her complaint because it was brought late. Her complaint to the OIA was therefore Not Justified.

 

Remedy

University of Winchester

The University of Winchester was unable to provide local accommodation to a student at the start of his course. The student complained on the basis that he had accepted a place through clearing on the understanding that the University would guarantee him University-managed accommodation, and about the delay in letting him know that it would not be able to accommodate him in Winchester. He also complained that when he was later offered accommodation elsewhere in the city he was not offered the same help with travel costs as other students.

The University upheld his complaint ‘for the most part’ and issued an apology. However it did not offer any financial compensation for travel costs or for distress.

We concluded that the University’s reasons for not providing assistance with travel costs were reasonable and that the student had not provided evidence of any actual financial losses. However, given the University’s acceptance that the student had been caused distress, we concluded that the University ought to have offered some financial compensation, in addition to the apology.

We decided that the complaint was Partly Justified.

We recommended that the University should pay the sum of £500 to compensate for the distress and inconvenience caused by the delay in advising the student that it was unable to locate accommodation in Winchester, and failure to offer direct financial help towards travel costs instead of catering vouchers of a commensurate financial value when the offer of accommodation in another city was made.

 

Repairs and maintenance

The University of Manchester

A student complained to the OIA after the University of Manchester dismissed his complaint about the way it had dealt with the impact of essential maintenance works at his accommodation.

It is sometimes difficult to avoid disruption caused by building and maintenance works in halls of residence. Steps should be taken to minimise any disruption and to be responsive to complaints. In this case the University had given prior notice of the work. When the student complained about disruption it offered him a number of options, including the opportunity to have a day study room, alternative accommodation or an early termination of the accommodation contract. It also offered him the equivalent of one week’s rent refund as compensation for inconvenience.

The OIA considered that the University had acted reasonably and that the complaint was Not Justified.

 

Disciplinary issues - proof of breach of regulations

University of Bristol.

A student at the University of Bristol complained to the OIA about a penalty for smoking and covering a smoke detector. The student was fined, issued a written reprimand and required to attend a fire safety course. Her appeal had been dismissed.

The student had been called to a disciplinary meeting after a routine security patrol found a number of students smoking in her room, with the smoke detector covered. The security officer filed a detailed incident report the same day, noting that the students had uncovered the smoke detector before a photograph could be taken. The student appealed on the basis that there was no evidence that the smoke detector had been covered.

The OIA decided that it was reasonable to rely on the security officer’s detailed written report in considering the case. The report made specific reference to the smoke detector and explained why it had not been possible to take a photograph.

The regulations were clear that any interference with smoke detectors would be reported. The penalties imposed on the student were within the range of available sanctions. The OIA decided the student’s complaint was Not Justified.

 

Engagement in disciplinary process

St Mary’s University Twickenham

A student at St Mary’s University Twickenham complained to the OIA about the penalty for causing damage to university accommodation, after his appeal was rejected.

The student had been called to separate disciplinary meetings for each of two incidents and to a further meeting after he failed to act upon the penalties imposed. Following the third meeting he was given a number of additional sanctions including a ban on living in university-owned accommodation for one year. He appealed on the grounds that the sanctions were too harsh, and that new evidence had come to light that he was not responsible for one of the incidents for which he had been penalised.

In considering his request for review the university noted the student’s view that his name had been cleared with regard to one of the incidents. However he had been banned from accommodation for not complying with the sanctions (in itself a disciplinary offence under the university regulations) and had not engaged with the university’s disciplinary process. He had been informed of his right to appeal after each of the first two hearings but had not chosen to do so.

The OIA decided the student’s complaint was Not Justified.